This year I have spent a lot of time driving through our ALStrays cat re-homing and transport project, transporting over 150 cats to their new homes in Germany.
Rewarding is the word that best describes how I feel about this. People often ask if I don’t find the 4,400km round trip exhausting, boring or repetitive. Many think I am mad (they are probably right), most say “rather you than me”, but the ones that matter, the new owners of the re-homed cats say Thank You, and that is all that is required to keep me doing this.
And this is the key to these long trips: planning and preparation.
Leaving aside the planning and preparation regarding the cats themselves (you can read about that over on the ALStrays site) there are a number of tips that I would pass on for anybody planning a long trip.
Start with a full tank: both in your vehicle and yourself. The evening before I make sure that the Van is full of diesel and I make sure that I have a good meal of pasta, and an early night.
During the trip I tend to fill up when the tank is on half, and at the same time I take onboard some food ad fluid myself. Lots of small amounts, keeping permanently toped up is the key for me to avoid fatigue and stay alert.
At each stop in addition to fuel for the van and myself I take time to stretch the old legs, back, neck and shoulders again more to avoid tension building up, although in my case with long term injuries to all those part of my body more of a necessity for me than most.
Pre Trip Check List
Van: oil, water, brake fluid, tyre pressure etc
Me: no booze for couple of days before, lots of fluid, couple of early nights, lots of fruit and veg (as I tend not to get to much on the road!)
No surprise that I use a lot of technology on the trips. For my Sat Nav I use Tom Tom on the iPhone and iPad, and as back up take the Garmin Zumo 550 that I use on the Road King Classic. One thing to remember though: make sure your waypoints are added to all the devices as no good having a back up if you can’t use it!
I also have detailed Michelin Maps for Spain, France and Germany ‘just in case’, but also to help put my location into perspective and to help with planning any changes to the route.
But, and this is an important but, if you are using a Sat Nav trust it!
The iPhone is attached to the Tom Tom car kit which is excellent, although the hands free phone option is pretty poor, so I have set up a Parrott linked through the Van audio system. The iPhone is also hooked up to the Auxiliary input so that my music and audiobooks all play through the radio as well.
One thing that I have learnt is not only to have enough music on the iPhone, but to have enough different music for the different times of the day: what I find helps keeps me awake during the night is not the same as what I enjoy driving through a sunny afternoon in Southern France for example.
Particularly on the way to Germany when we have the cats onboard time is pretty tight as we want to get the Cats to germany as quickly and safely as possible for their comfort.
We don’t stop overnight, but allocate time for several short rest stops and a two hour kip in the van. Again the trick is to ensure you prevent fatigue rather than fight it. No way will you not get tired, but rather than keep going until you can’t carry on I have found that it is much better to stop well before then, have a couple of hours and then carry on. I also tend to stop after an hour or so and have another 30 minutes kip as that seems to work really well for me.
Drink & Food
Hard not to avoid sweets and crisps for immediate energy burst, but also important to drink a lot of water and isotonic drinks to stay hydrated, and counter the de-hydrating effects of the numerous coffees that you will consume.
I always try and eat a couple of pieces of fruit at least each day, and never have a ‘full meal’ as I find that just aces me sluggish.
I have a set routine every time I stop, which is about every three hours: top up the van with fuel, check the tires and water levels, have a drink myself, a small bite to eat, a stretch and a brisk walk round. Takes about 15 minutes in total and well worth it!